(Updated October 2018)
Sadly, sometimes I cannot cherish a place enough – because there are some negative points that have a too strong impact or I’m not ready for the place or I simply need something different the moment I’m there. And it’s only afterward that I reminisce and realize how cool it actually was.
Viet Nam is a place like this.
Before I went there, I’ve heard from so many people how great it was and that it was even much nicer than Thailand, so I really looked forward going there, yet I was quite disappointed. Maybe my expectations were so high because of all the tales.
Anyway, now that I think back, it is quite cool. It’s probably due to its political past that it is so very different from the other South East Asian countries, and maybe that’s confusing at first, but there are so many good things there, it’s absolutely worth it and I think, I’ll be back somewhen soon.
Everybody has heard that there was a Vietnam War – sadly mainly because the US got involved.
But the conflict did not start with the intrusion of the US troops.
I am no historian, but I’d like to give you a brief historic précis. This is by no means a detailed, pinpoint documentation of Viet Nam’s history – it’s a strongly simplified overview. I just quote the ‘big points’, which is hard enough since there were so many twists and turns and much was connected to events far away. Mind you, even the exact date of the beginning of war cannot be determined since it depends on which conflict or event you consider (and it’s not 196 – that’s when the US got involved, but that’s not when the war in Viet Nam started). For further, deeper insight, please consult relevant literature.
A lesson that every oppressor has to learn eventually: You can exploit people only so long.
|Catholic Notre Dame Cathedral in at one time Buddhist Viet Nam.|
One of them was Ho Chi Minh who came back to Viet Nam in 1941 and founded the Viet Minh, a group consisting of i. a. freedom fighters and communists. By that time – during WWII – Viet Nam was, like many Asian countries, attacked by Japan, an ally of Nazi-Germany and its collaborator Vichy France.
And at this point, history added an afterwit: Fighting the fascist forces and their allies, the – nota bene – United States of America supported the communist Viet Minh lead by Ho Chi Minh! (And since this worked out so well, they repeatedly supported fighting groups who eventually turned around and – literally – beat them with their own weapons).
In 1945, Viet Nam became the first independent state of South East Asia – founded according to the United States Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution.
By that time the country got divided into the China-oriented North and the Catholic South, forced by the French. That they were tending North, finally lead to the Indochina war that the Vietnamese guerilla won in 1954.
|Commemorating tiles on Quan Thanh in Hanoi.|
Following the Geneva conference in 1954, the Viet Minh settled in the North of today’s Viet Nam behind the 17th degree of latitude. The South was ruled emperor Bảo Đại under Western influence. All of Indochina, Laos, and Cambodia received their state independence.
For July 1956, free elections were agreed throughout Vietnam, monitored by representatives of the NATO, the Warsaw Pact, and India. But Bảo Đại’s successor, Ngô Đình Diệm, finally denied these elections, and the conflicts between North and South Vietnam ultimately resulted in the second Indochina, better known as the Vietnam War.
|A picture at the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi: Everybody has his own perspective of the war. I’m not sure whether the souvenirs made the American war prisoners’ memories much nicer…|
In fear of the strengthening of communism in the region, in 1964 the USA again entered the conflict, this time against Ho Chi Minh. In 1973 the US withdrew its troops, but supported the South Vietnamese by supplying them with weapons.
|Take your pick: Ho Chi Minh in all ages and stages
(at a gift shop next to the Ho Chi Minh museum in Hanoi)
The war officially ended in 1975, and Viet Nam was reunited in 1976.
I think it’s important to look at the ‘big picture’, to have an idea what was going on earlier, and that it was not that the ‘red hordes’ took over willy-nilly, but that they intended to free the country from its colonialists and oppressors. Their idea was to end despotism, injustice, and exploitation.
This was often the underlying idea – but sadly it often continued and ended in another kind of despotism and injustice.
However, my personal observation and opinion are that in ‘developing countries’ the socialist idea and politics did good – free education, free healthcare, equal rights for women etc. But of course on a long-term the result is not convincing, no matter how many cheesy slogans they write on the walls.
For us Europeans having lived with the iron curtain for decades and having witnessed how complicated it was to let bygones be bygones resp. to cope with the past, it’s amazing how the people of Vietnam get over the past, embraces the changes.
|Obviously, there is enough space for different kinds of faith.|
Actually, this difference in dealing with Socialism in comparison with European countries isn’t that new. The Vietnamese way seems to be less doctrinal and obstinate. Already the fact that Buddhist monks joined the Socialist fight against Colonial France and later the American troops shows the different approach. In Europe, every form of religion was banned by the Socialist government (according to Marx’ saying “Religion is the opium of the people”). Well, in the Far East they obviously find their own way to deal with opium.
It’s baffling to see the traditional, naive, right in your face propaganda at every corner – including the inevitable red flags, pentagrams and hammer and sickle. And right next to it people living their hyper-capitalistic reality selling you everything.
|A family picture of Viet Nam’s different eras: Colonialism, Communism, and Capitalism.|
The Socialist Republic of Viet Nam has a population of more than 90 million people living on a 329.560 sq km (about 127,000 sq miles) terrain. While the South and North are low, flat deltas, the central highlands and the far North towards China are hilly or even mountainous. While the South is tropically hot and humid, the North is noticeably cool and rainy. In Viet Nam you pay with Dong (VND) – that you can convert e. g. on XE.
This is just the general introduction to the country. In the following nine chapters (links below) you’ll get extended information on each place I’ve been.
This is the route I’ve travelled….
…and these are the places I’ve visited – with extended information to each of them: